Ward 6 State Board of Education Candidates
Education has been a hot topic this election season. It is important to know who you are voting for, especially for your local representative on the Board of Education.
Ward 6 Board of Education candidates, Mark Naydan and Joe Weedon, answered questions about their plans for Ward 6 public schools at a forum at Eastern Senior High School on Tuesday, Oct. 14.
Mark Naydan has been a history and government teacher at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, Maryland for ten years, and is involved in Northwestern’s PTA and the National Education Association. He has been a resident of Ward 6 for more than 20 years. He is a volunteer taxpreparer and is active in his church. Naydan hopes to bring more technology into the classrooms and improve the reputation of DC schools.
Joe Weedon is the Executive Director of Companies for Causes, a nonprofit that engages socially-minded CEOs in the community. He is the father of two students at Maury Elementary School in Ward 6. He was involved in the development and implementation of the Ward 6 Middle School Plan and served on the Eliot-Hine Middle School collaboration team, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s Title I Committee of Practitioners, and on the board of two nonprofits focused on expanding after-school programming. Weedon believes in setting high standards and hopes for more cooperation among different schools to achieve those standards.
On the PARCC Assessment
Two Eastern students, Christian Coleman and Dajuan Greene, came straight from football practice to participate in the forum. They voiced concerns about the new PARCC assessment, a test that evaluates students based on Common Core standards.
Naydan said that while he believes that standards should be rigorous, he is worried about whether students will be able to meet PARCC standards. “What I think will happen is, the PARCC standards will adjust ultimately,” he said. It will take time get the bugs out and figure out exactly what these standards should be, he said. He also supports alternative testing for students who do not perform well under traditional testing methods.
Weedon is a strong advocate of the PARCC assessment and does not support changing it. “We shouldn’t lower those standards; if anything, here in the District, we should exceed them,” he said. He expects test scores to drop significantly at first. “We need to make sure that teachers and schools are getting the resources they need to help students meet the Common Core standards,” he said. There will be lots of work to do to ensure that students are performing at grade level, but “we’re not going to take a shortcut…we’re going to work so that [students] can succeed,” he added. Weedon said he believes the end result will be students that perform at the same level across schools and have the skills they need to compete in college and the workforce.
On Middle Schools
Natalie Wexler, education blogger and moderator of the forum, asked the candidates if they had any suggestions for much needed improvement in DC middle schools, particularly in Ward 6.
Naydan said that he thinks introducing the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, a program that provides an internationally accepted qualification for entry into higher education, in middle schools is an excellent way to prepare students. Some schools have already started doing this and he would like to see more, he said. Middle school is also a perfect time for the brain to absorb foreign languages and that, along with technology, always helps to improve the reputation of schools, he said.
Weedon and the Ward 6 community have invested for many years in developing and implementing the Ward 6 Middle School Plan. The Plan calls for the implementation of the IB Programme at Eliot-Hine Middle School and Jefferson Academy Middle School, and the expansion of high-level math and world languages at all neighborhood middle schools. It also lays out a vision for middle school renovations and growth, including the expansion of Capitol Hill Montessori School at Logan through the eighth grade. “We’ve made great progress,” he said, but he disagrees with District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Kaya Henderson on the effectiveness of DCPS’s implementation. “We need DCPS to step out of its rigid staffing models to fund the programs that will allow middle schools to succeed,” he said.
On Student Mobility
Wexler and the students also brought up the issue of student mobility. Thirty percent of DC high school students start and end at different schools, according to a recent study by Raise DC (http://raisedc.net/pdfs/DME_GradPathways_FinalReport_20140924_vF.pdf). Mobile students are less likely to graduate and graduate on time, the study said.
Naydan said “ultimately, we should be teaching the same thing across schools,” which would make transferring a smoother transition. Students and their parents should also have an honest conversation with the administration at schools before making the choice, he said. He also strongly feels that four years is not always enough for some students. We should accept that and not penalize schools for it, he said.
Weedon said that student mobility is a serious problem. This problem exists not only in the high schools, but also in the neighborhoods, he said. Students are “losing those relationships with their friends, with their peer groups that help them succeed,” and this is creating a problem of disconnected youth, he said. “We need to work more closely with parents and engage parents” so that they can determine what students need and make an informed decision about which school to choose, he said. He believes that parents should always choose the best school for their children, but he wants to invest in the neighborhood schools so that schools like Eastern will become the first choice.
Both candidates were passionate about serving the Ward 6 community. “I wish we could both do it,” Naydan said.
Naydan has been endorsed by the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association (PGCEA), a local affiliate of the National Education Association. Kenneth Haines, President of the PGCEA, said that Naydan is “a tireless advocate for both teachers and children.” It would be an advantage for the Board of Education to have a member who has “first-hand experience of what it means to be a front-line educator,” he said.
Weedon has received endorsements from Charles Allen, Democratic nominee for the Ward 6 DC Council; Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Councilmember; Monica Warren-Jones, Ward 6 State Board of Education member; and Sharon Ambrose, former Ward 6 Councilmember. Allen said that the most important factor in his reason to support Weedon is that he has a long track record working with Ward 6 schools, and he really knows the schools. “He understands both the successes and the challenges ahead,” Allen said. Both candidates are good people, but “when I look at the experience and the vision, Joe Weedon is the clear winner,” he said.